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For the film, see Burebista (film).
King of Dacia
File:Burebista statue in Calarasi.jpg
Burebista statue in the Municipal Park of Călăraşi
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82–44 BC
Died 44 BC

Burebista (Ancient Greek: Βυρεβίστας, Βοιρεβίστας) was a king of the Getae and Dacians, who unified their tribes for the first time and ruled them between 82 BC and 44 BC. He led plunder and conquest raids across Central and Southeastern Europe, subjugating most of the neighbouring tribes. After his assassination in a palace coup, the empire was divided into smaller states.

Early references

Only three ancient sources on Burebista survive: Strabo: Geographica 7.3.5, 7.3.11 and 16.2.39 (who spells his name Byrebistas and Boirebistas); Jordanes: Getica 67 (spells his name Buruista); and a marble inscription found in Balchik, Bulgaria (now found at the National Museum in Sofia) which represents a decree by the citizens of Dionysopolis about Akornion.[1]

Development of Burebista's polity

File:Cetatea Blidaru.JPG
Walls from the fortress of Blidaru (Hunedoara County, Romania), built by Burebista's kingdom
File:Cetatea Costesti.JPG
Walls from the fortress of Costeşti

The development of a La Tène-based economy in 3rd-2nd century BC allowed the consolidation of political power through tribal unions. Such regional unions were found both among the Transylvanian Dacians (under the rule of Rubobostes) and the Moldavian and Wallachian Getae (with a center of power in Argedava). Burebista was the first to create a union of tribes of both Dacians and the Getae.[2]

This alliance was probably a weakly centralized state, with a military organization similar to the one of the Hellenistic Kingdoms.[2] The exact degree of centralization is under debate, with archaeologists, such as K. Lockyear, denying the existence of a state, because the archaeological evidence shows much regional diversity, with only a few region-wide trends. Others, such as A. Diaconescu, dispute this and conclude that there was a centralized political structure.[3]

During Burebista's rule, nearly all production was by free people.[2]

Strabo wrote that Burebista was able to obtain the complete obedience of his tribe with the help of Decaeneus, a wizard and a diviner who learned his craft in Egypt. The people's obedience to Burebista was so complete that they were even persuaded to cut their vines and give up drinking wine.[4] Jordanes further claims that the high priest held "almost royal powers" and taught the "Goths" a code of laws called the "belagines laws", but also ethics, philosophy and sciences, including physics and astronomy.[5]

In the heart of Burebista's empire, in the Orăştie Mountains, he built a system of stone fortifications on higher ground; the most important of such hill forts are located today in the villages of Costeşti, Blidaru, Piatra Roşie and Băniţa.[2]

Conquests and external policy

Burebista led a policy of conquest of new territories: in 60/59 BC, he attacked and vanquished the Celtic tribes of Boii and Taurisci, who dwelt along the Middle Danube and in what is now Slovakia. After 55 BC and probably before 48 BC, Burebista conquered the Black Sea shore, subjugating the Greek fortresses from Olbia to Apollonia, as well as the Danubian Plain all the way to the Balkans.[2] Strabo also mentions the expeditions against a group of Celts who lived among the Thracians and Illyrians (probably the Scordisci).[6]

The only Greek polis with which Burebista had good relations was Dionysopolis.[2] According to an inscription found in this city, Akornion, a citizen of the city was a chief adviser (πρῶτοσφίλος, literally "first friend") of Burebista.[7]

At its peak of power, Burebista's empire stretched from modern Slovakian Carpathians to the Balkans and from the Middle Danube to the Black Sea. Strabo claims that the Getae could raise up to 200,000 soldiers in wartime,[2] a rather improbable number,[8] but which could represent the total number of able males, not the number of any army.[2] Burebista was a worthy adversary for the Romans, as his army would cross the Danube and plunder the Roman towns as far as in Thrace, Macedonia and Illyria.[4]

In 48 BC, Burebista sided with Pompey during his struggle against Julius Caesar in the Roman civil war,[2] sending Akornion as an ambassador and a military adviser. After Caesar emerged as victor, he planned on sending legions to punish Burebista,[9] but he was assassinated in the Senate before he could do so, on March 15, 44 BC.


Burebista only outlived Caesar for a short time. In the same year he was assassinated in a plot by the tribal aristocracy, who felt that a centralized state would reduce their power. After his death, the empire dissolved, with the exception of the nucleus around the Orăştie Mountains,[2] while the rest divided into various kingdoms.[4] When Augustus Caesar sent an army against the Getae, the former state of Burebista was divided into four states.[9]

File:Stamp burebista.jpg
1980 Stamp from Romania, labeled "2050 years from the creation of the first centralized and independent Dacian state under the leadership of Burebista"


In Romania, starting in the 1970s, the Nicolae Ceauşescu regime used a nationalistic and questionable interpretation of ancient history (Protochronism) as a way to legitimize its own rule.[10] For instance, Burebista, a great conqueror, was seen as merely a "unifier" of the Dacian tribes.[11]

As part of this tendency, in 1980 the Romanian government declared the celebration of the 2050th anniversary of the founding of the "unified and centralized" Dacian state of Burebista, drawing comparisons with Ceauşescu's Romania and claiming an uninterrupted existence of the state from Burebista to Ceauşescu.[12] The epic movie Burebista (1980) based on the king's life was released in that year, celebrating him as the Romanian pater patriae.[10]

This commemoration led the press to note "similarities" between Burebista and Ceauşescu, and even professional historians such as Ion Horaţiu Crişan spoke about Burebista in ways similar to the ways party activists spoke about Ceauşescu.[10]

See also


  1. ^ W. S. Hanson, Ian Haynes, Roman Dacia: the making of a provincial society, 2004, Journal of Roman Archaeology, ISBN 1-887829-56-3, p. 34
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pippidi 1976, p. 116-117.
  3. ^ Jinyu Liu, "Review of Roman Dacia. The Making of a Provincial Society", Bryn Mawr Classical Review, March 12, 2005
  4. ^ a b c Strabo, Geography, VII:3.11
  5. ^ Jordanes, XI
  6. ^ John T. Koch, Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia, p.550, ABC-CLIO, 2006 ISBN 1-85109-440-7
  7. ^ H. Daicoviciu, p. 127
  8. ^ Boia, p.184
  9. ^ a b Strabo, Geography, VII:3.5
  10. ^ a b c Boia, p. 221
  11. ^ Boia, 177
  12. ^ Boia, p. 78; 125




Further reading

External links